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PUBLIC PROCUREMENT – AN AGENT FOR CHANGE

Given their substantial buying power, contracting authorities can have significant leverage over global supply chains. This makes public procurement an important tool for promoting environmental standards and respect for human rights. 

High-risk goods 
The value of goods and services procured by public authorities in the EU – ranging from computers to food items to construction materials – exceeds EUR 2 trillion annually. A large portion of the goods are produced in countries with a high risk of adverse human rights and environmental impacts including forced labour, excessive overtime and pollution.  

Procurement as a lever to mitigate impacts 
By strategically include and monitor sustainability criteria that aim to safeguard human rights and the environment in the production of procured goods, contracting authorities have the possibility to mitigate salient risks and impacts in global supply chains. This is in line with internationally endorsed guidelines such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Agenda 2030, target 12.7 which promotes sustainable public procurement.  

Although the EU Directive on public procurement (2014/24/EU) put expectations on contracting authorities in the EU ensure that suppliers comply with environmental, social and labour law (including ILO core Conventions), many contracting authorities do not effectively enforce social and environmental responsible public procurement. This is due to lack of resources, knowledge and political will. From the supplier perspective, price pressure can be a problem, giving them little leeway to improve conditions in their supply chains.

Swedwatch’s work on public procurement
Over the last decade, Swedwatch has shed light on human rights and environmental impacts present in public sector supply chains through investigations, capacity building activities and consultative roundtables and dialogues, pushing and supporting contracting authorities to enforce sustainability criteria in their purchasing practices. Following recommendations in our reports, individual Swedish and Norwegian contracting authorities are now considered as frontrunners.

Examples from our work on public procurement


 

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Uncovering appalling conditions in procurement supply chains 

Back in 2007 Swedwatch examined the production of surgical instruments in Pakistan and textiles in India, purchased by Swedish hospitals, and uncovered appalling working conditions and indications of child labour. The report was the first in a series of investigations, including processed chicken, coffee and pharmaceuticals. Swedwatch´s findings and recommendations have over the years prompted contracting authorities to develop a national system for applying and monitoring social criteria in procurement processes. 

Workshops and webinars about high risk product grops 

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